Connections: Then and Now

“Full of Character for a Lot Less in Bayonne, N.J.”

Because I like reading the real estate section in the Sunday New York Times, it was no surprise when I saw a headline on Aug. 24 that began “Full of Character for a Lot Less. . . .” But when I read the rest of it, I let out a loud “Wow.” The full headline was “Full of Character for a Lot Less in Bayonne, N.J.”

Bayonne, the city I grew up in, has appeared here over the over years, and I’ve been interested in the general area, the high-rise apartment buildings going up along Upper New York Bay in Jersey City and the gentrification of Hoboken, where I have friends. It nevertheless came as a shock to read the “Less Rent” story, in a feature called “The Hunt,” and learn that the Maidenform factory, where I had my very first job, was now  SilkLofts apartments.

I may have told the story already about the women who worked at Maidenform called loopers, who used to get so bored threading straps onto brassieres that they took to entertaining themselves by singing and, on occasion, barking. (I kid you not.) My job was to address postcards to people who had responded to the company’s “I dreamed I went . . . in my Maidenform bra” promotion, although I can’t remember what the postcards said. I worked with two others in a small office that was partitioned off the loopers’ floor.

I should have been forewarned about what was happening in Bayonne. After all, the Bulova watchcase factory in Sag Harbor has been under redevelopment as private residences for some time now. Besides, there are physical similarities. The Bulova and Maidenform buildings are multistory brick buildings of the same vintage. They both boast that the living units have exposed wood beams and brick walls, and they both have impressive, six-over-six-pane windows.

But Bayonne is not Sag Harbor. The Maidenform factory has been converted into 85 studio and one and two-bedroom apartments, which rent for between $1,700 and $3,400, while the Watchcase’s 64 lofts and penthouses start at $1.15 million and reach a peak of $10.2 million, not including monthly common charges and taxes. Another big difference is that Sag Harbor is a resort destination while Bayonne is an alternative to the boroughs of Manhattan. Those who live in Bayonne rely on New Jersey PATH transit, light rail, or buses to get around, including to the Big Apple. And then there is the matter of views.

The Watchcase apartments are advertised as having views of a boat-filled harbor and a picturesque village. Silk­Lofts advertises Manhattan views to the east and sunset views to the west. I’m sure that is true, but the developers apparently are downplaying any proximity to the light rail tracks, to Route 440, which sweeps along to the east, and to the tank farms on marshland not too far away, where oil companies have stored fuel for generations. Perhaps the tanks can’t be seen.

When I was about the age my oldest grandchildren are now, some tough guy introduced my friends and me to Bayonne’s marshes. The idea was to go there to get cattails, or punks, in order to smoke their cigar-shaped seed heads. I don’t remember that it ever worked, at least not for me.

The couple profiled in The Times rented a 1,200-square-foot, two-bedroom apartment for $2,500 a month with a $15 amenity fee. Their view includes the remarkable single-arch Bayonne Bridge in one direction and a wind turbine in the other. The article didn’t say if they planned to have children, but if they do, someone should warn them about punks.